By BRYAN ANDREWS
Probably my most meaningful barefoot walk was in Jerusalem. I was one of those people who never wanted to go to Israel. I didn’t want my picture of the Holy Land to be shattered by reality, so I found all sorts of reasons not to go. Fortunately, my wife’s wisdom is far greater than mine and May 2003 saw us on an El Al flight heading for the Middle East.
Jerusalem was amazing. From the moment I stood on the Mount of Olives and looked down golden Dome of the Rock located on Temple Mount, behind the walls of the Old City, I was hooked, and I’ve been in love with the city ever since. Old Jerusalem had so much promise. There was so much to explore; so much I wanted to see; so much I wanted to do – and top of my list was to walk the Via Dolorosa…barefoot.
Before leaving Johannesburg, I had read in a guidebook that the Franciscan monks led a procession along the Via Dolorosa every Friday afternoon at 3pm. Our free afternoon in Jerusalem was, coincidentally, on a Friday, so at 2:55pm, I was at the Ecce Homo Arch ready to join the Franciscans. There was just one problem – the Franciscans didn’t arrive.
Jerusalem can be hot and, although it was only the start of summer, that Friday afternoon was very hot. I had remembered to take my hat but had forgotten my water bottle in my hotel room. Not the most brilliant thing I have ever done…
When the Franciscans still hadn’t arrived by 3:10pm, I thought I’d better ask a local what was going on. Right by the Ecce Homo Arch, there is an attractive gift shop. Not the least of its attractions that afternoon was that it was cool. The Armenian Christian owner confirmed that I hadn’t been smoking my socks, which was a good thing because I hadn’t packed any. The Franciscans did walk the Via Dolorosa every Friday – at 3:00pm in the winter and 4:00pm in the summer. As we were already into summer, I was an hour early.
Assuring me that he really didn’t expect me to buy anything from him, he insisted on giving me a glass of ice cold water to stop me from dehydrating in the afternoon heat – a living endorsement of Mark 9:41 – “I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.”
There is a limit to how long anyone can take up space in a small shop, conversing with the owner in broken English and not buying anything. (Note: I didn’t buy anything from his shop that time but have bought something every time I have been back). When I reached that limit, I said my thank yous and good byes and returned to the heat of the Ecce Homo Arch.
It was too hot to stand around in the sun for another half hour, so I decided to walk the Via Dolorosa on my own. Carrying my sandals, I walked the route that Jesus is believed to have walked. The atmosphere was not the same as I imagine it would have been if I had walked with the Franciscans, and I took a wrong turn somewhere along the way because I found myself at the Damascus Gate instead of at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. But I had taken my personal pilgrimage along the Via Dolorosa barefoot and felt closer to Jesus because of it.